I grew up in a small country town on the edge of the Australian outback, 800km from the nearest small city, and several light years away from the world of environmentalism. The geography and wildlife of this semi-arid upbringing created the foundations for what I call my “eco-centred worldview.” The smell of my childhood was gidgee trees and eucalypts; the setting for family picnics was the dry sandy riverbed of the Alice River with white cockatoos and corellas calling out overhead; and my extreme love of rain comes from living in a place that hardly ever saw the stuff.
Where I grew up, water came from deep within the earth—ancient ground water from the Great Artesian Basin, and mobs of Eastern grey and red kangaroos were part of the community. Sunsets were big and red, and splashed across a horizon that stretched out endlessly—sometimes monotonously for a young woman with grand aspirations to explore the world.
As a child, three people played a huge role in forging my love of nature and ecological justice. My mum’s passion for environmentalism was born not from theories or university education, but from something deep in her own being and wisdom. And Dad’s love of nature, combined with his strong Irish Catholic upbringing, meant that ecocentrism was bolstered with empathy for “the underdog.” Once a week, pretty much every week I can remember, the whole family would sit together to watch David Attenborough on TV. His shows enabled a little kid from the Aussie bush to experience the endless parade of global biodiversity and the wonder of the planet’s ecosystems second-hand from a timber Queenslander.
In my twenties I studied politics, history and law, and was introduced to an amazing group of women who had a huge impact on my views about ecocentrism. Marie, Margaret, Patsy and Hazel were from the Ghungalu Aboriginal community in Central Queensland, and invited me to help them with the complicated and ultimately flawed processes of the Native Title Legislation. For 10 years I was part of their lives and work, learning about what it means to stand up for and protect country.
These experiences inspired me to continue practicing at the intersection of environmental law and social justice, ultimately advocating for the rights of all members of the Earth community. I’ve been particularly influenced by the work of Thomas Berry, who coined the term “Earth jurisprudence,” a theory of law and governance based on the idea that humans are only one part of a wider community of beings, and that the welfare of each member of that community is dependent on the welfare of the earth as a whole.
Berry proposed that the primary cause of our ecological crisis is anthropocentrism, or human-centredness—the belief that we are somehow separate from, and more important than, the rest of the natural world. Anthropocentrism has come to underpin all aspects of governance in the Industrial Age—economics, education, religion, politics—and fostered the belief that the natural world is merely property; a collection of objects for human use.
It’s become increasingly clear over the years how my skills as a lawyer and my love of the interconnectedness of life on Earth could meet. And how I could be part of shifting the culture from anthropocentrism to ecocentrism, while helping shape our legal and governance systems to support the Earth community.
In 2012, I co-founded the Australian Earth Laws Alliance with a group of deeply concerned environmental lawyers. AELA has been meeting with communities around Australia exploring what “Rights of Nature” laws might look like in this country. A big part of that is engaging with the wealth of wisdom and knowledge of the First Nations Peoples of this land.
For me, this work is the ultimate expression of my personal beliefs and values. It encapsulates a range of programs that I care about deeply: advocating for Earth-centred laws; using education, arts and eco-spirituality to promote a cultural shift from anthropocentrism to ecocentrism; and creating Earth-centred alternatives to the flawed human centred, growth focussed systems of industrial society.
At a time when the decline of our living world is devastating and heart-wrenching, I believe Earth jurisprudence offers the guidance we need—a deep philosophical anchor encompassing a range of practical, multi-disciplinary approaches to creating change that better supports the natural world and human societies. Earth jurisprudence also connects our rational concern for the state of the earth with something deeper and more powerful: our innate connection with and love of our home planet and evolutionary companions.
I believe tapping into this powerful connection is the catalyst we need to implement new governance for the sustainability of life on our beautiful planet, and I feel deeply grateful to be part of the change.